We are delighted to announce that we will be hosting a Research Symposium event on Thursday 6 June 2019. This afternoon research event will take place before our evening Professorial Lecture with Steve Kempster.
Thursday 6 June 2019, 14:00-17:00 Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol
In the face of environmental, social,
political and economic change organisations are coming under increasing
pressure to demonstrate responsible and inclusive leadership that makes a
lasting, positive impact to the lives of the communities they engage with.
Whilst such principles are now well accepted in both policy and practice the
continuing prevalence of discrimination, inequality and unethical practice,
combined with a loss of trust and a growing sense of disengagement and
disillusionment across significant parts of the population, suggest that
implementing such an approach is not so straightforward.
This event, organised by Bristol Leadership and Change Centre in collaboration with the Centre for Responsible Management at the University of Winchester, opens
up a space for discussion and reflection around the paradoxes and possibilities
of responsible and inclusive leadership, drawing on the latest theory and
research in this field. The event is designed for academics, students,
consultants and practitioners interested in and/or responsible for the
management of people and organisations. It may be particularly beneficial for
those working with or towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and/or with
the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), as well as those
with a responsibility for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) and mobilising
will be hosted at Bristol Business School, UWE, Bristol and will be followed by
a Distinguished Professorial Lecture by Professor Steve Kempster. Both events are free to attend
although registration is required in order to reserve a place.
The Responsible Management and Leadership Paradox: An interactive
Dr Simon M Smith Department of Responsible Management and Leadership, University of Winchester
This interactive session is designed
to explore and discuss the day-to-day realities faced with delivering
responsible management and leadership. This will be presented as a number of
paradoxical situations that we address within the world of business and will
lead into a rich and diverse set of discussions around responsible management
There will be a short introduction to
outline the conceptual paradox theory of ‘Organizational Ambidexterity’ applied
to the responsible management and leadership context. No experience with this academic
construct is needed. A number of situations are then provided to all
participants to instigate a discussion of how these situations are dealt with
on the frontline. As well as increasing our understanding of these paradoxical
realities, it is hoped that we will inspire how to tackle such situations
through shared practice.
Learning from Lived
Experience: Opportunities and Challenges for mobilising lasting change on
leadership and inclusion in the NHS
Recent years have seen increasing emphasis on
the need for collective, compassionate and inclusive leadership in UK public
services. The National Health Service (NHS) constitution in particular places a
legal and moral requirement to address inequality in all that it does. Despite an espoused commitment to equality,
diversity and inclusion, however, and a series of associated policy and
practice initiatives, inequality gaps continue to increase, compounded by
successive neo-liberal policy agendas that have contributed to a growing
financial deficit, constant political and systemic interventions, increasing
fragmentation and conflicting accountabilities.
A recent initiative from the NHS Leadership
Academy – Building Leadership for Inclusion – intervenes at both an individual
and systems level. Engaging meaningfully with ‘lived experience’, it aims to
foster inclusive leadership and hasten the speed of change, a commitment
reiterated in the NHS Long-Term Plan
to “do more to develop
and embed cultures of compassion, inclusion, and collaboration across the NHS” (NHS England, 2019: 89). Whilst a more
abstract concept than ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, with its
emphasis on perceptions and experience (rather than objectively measurable
criteria) highlights the cultural-cognitive
dimensions of change. In so doing, we suggest, it offers the potential to
address systemic causes, rather than surface-level symptoms, and to support the
complex, messy, emotional and politicised work of mobilising large-scale
In this session, we will share findings from
our action research and evaluation on this initiative, including enablers and
barriers to change. We will also invite
participants to reflect on their own lived experience of inclusive and
non-inclusive leadership and the challenges of mobilising lasting change on
How to attend
If you would like to attend this research symposium please register your details online: Click here to register
If you would also like to attend the evening Professorial address with Steve Kempster (please see below for details) you will need to register separately for this event.
Professorial Lecture Series: Professor Steve Kempster
What are the Responsibilities of Business Leadership: Generating good dividends?
The talk will focus on Steve’s new book (with Thomas Maak and
Ken Parry) out in February 2019 that explores the role of leadership in making
manifest societal purpose to everyday business activity – how business value
and social impact can be aligned and realised. Too little attention in
leadership is focused on the responsibilities and activities of those who lead.
Steve will seek to answer the question ‘leadership for what?’ He will outline an answer through focusing on responsible leadership of purpose through an interdisciplinary perspective. Responsible leadership moves the axis of leadership from leader – followers to leader – stakeholders; away from looking at leadership as person-centric – the qualities, abilities, and effectiveness of the leader – to a focus on the purposes, responsibilities, and activities of leadership. For further details and to register please visit our event page.
What if Universities were seen as institutions with responsibilities to the societies they inhabit? What hope for a citizen-led, participatory curriculum to equip us with the knowledge to build a more human, caring and sustainable economy? This Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (BLCC) research symposium was held at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, in October 2018. Its purpose, as described by event organisers, was to bring together leadership and management scholars to reflect on the nature, purpose, and challenges of being ‘critical’ in the contemporary Business School environment.
Higher Education, as a social process of facilitating learning and change, has a critical challenge. Many academics are aware, sometimes intuitively, of the limitations of the liberal institution of education, characterised by the detached observations of objective, scientific discourses that form the supposed neutrality of knowledge. Many still adhere to the dispiriting task of preparing debt-laden students for the mercies or exclusions of work, markets, and consumption that follow, often due to a lack of any tangible sense of an alternative.
More recently, learning in an era of globalization is understood as dispersed, taking place outside the bounds of traditional education and within a high velocity exchange of people and places, finance, technologies, cultures, settings, and spaces. Despite talk of helping individuals adapt to complexity, diversity and change, the priorities of the Business School can still seem dominated by the narrow, quantitative models valued by economists and market-fearing policymakers, alongside a distinctly neoliberal narrative of entrepreneurship, leadership and ‘being enterprising’.
Creativity is the buzzword, but in an increasingly disturbed world. At the same time, individuals have become ever more isolated from each other amid spiralling mental ill-health and shrinking space to imagine alternatives. Technological advances are reducing family, peer and social relations to cyber-relations – only exacerbating feelings of loneliness – while automation and marketisation reduce much subsequent employment to precarity or meaningless grind. Political apathy, social inequality and welfare state dismantling seem the accepted costs of ever-expanding markets and ‘continuous improvement’. Higher education can, for all its virtues, end up merely helping individuals adapt to the deep pathologies of neoliberal market society.
At the heart of this, I think, is the spectre of homo economicus. This is the assumed ‘rational’ economic agent inculcated with the knowledge and the skills to play the occupational roles demanded by the over-capitalised and financialised global economy. Yet we apparently still need the local, the situational and the social value found in non-market participation: the human touch, the sense of presence and care increasingly found absent in our turbo-charged market society. Recent research has demonstrated that social connection, empathy, and cooperation are at the foundation of personal, social and community change. Do academics or leaders in academia have the courage to move the discussion beyond the shadow of the selfish gene?
In Critical Condition
The value of critical pedagogy lies in its capacity to equip us with the knowledge to expose and challenge often hidden injustice. It also lies in a sense of hope that grows with connecting and working together to co-create practical and political alternatives to some of the major challenges of our time. This is important because how we frame contemporary social or environmental problems depends on our values and principles, which can in turn open up a broader spectrum of solutions than our modern polity or market governance may view as plausible.
So how did this event contribute to our sense of individual and collective empowerment in this sense? What exactly is the nature, purpose and challenges of being ‘critical’ in the contemporary Business School environment?
There were some bright minds, interesting discussion and excellent presentations. Keynote speaker Professor Martin Parker from the University of Bristol exposed the ‘hidden curriculum’, explaining how contemporary business schools teach a narrow form of capitalism where ‘the market’ is the underlying driver and determinant of the education they provide. He pointed out how literally hundreds of alternative forms of organising social and economic life are excluded in the Business School curriculum, demonstrating this through his ‘organising dictionary’. In this dictionary were many alternatives, including some of the more well-known such as worker-owned cooperatives and the commons.
Importantly, Parker invited us to think about patterns, and urged us to start re-building higher education from the bottom-up experiences and strengths of citizens and communities. To facilitate a more accurate conception of the rich tapestry of human organising, he moved us away from ‘management’ and towards the margins of what contemporary capitalism would consider value-able. He proposed an alternative institution: The School for Organising. This institution will develop and teach the multitude of different forms of organising, “enabling individuals to discover alternative responses to the issues of inequality and sustainability faced by all of us today”.
Dr Sarah Robinson of the University of Glasgow delivered some penetrating insights (and warnings) for the aspiring early career academic. Of particular interest for me was the disjuncture between the intrinsic motivation of critically-minded scholars who go into academia (considerations of social justice, democracy, intellectual autonomy and independence) and the post-PhD reality (Key Performance Indicators, stress, insecurity, audit culture, managerialism, publishing restrictions and conditionality).
Dr Neil Sutherland from UWE delivered a convincing presentation on the drawbacks of ‘teaching’ under the rubric of the critical banner. A short paragraph alone would not hope to capture the clarity of his thinking on this topic. Yet in essence, he asked, does this impose ‘our’ way of thinking on free-thinking students? Does this create an unhelpful binary of us and them?
Dr Pam Seanor and Dr Doris Schedlitzki, also from UWE, invited participants to weave together the value of their experience with the entrepreneurship, leadership and ‘being enterprising’ agenda. What might critical entrepreneurship look like instead? How can we move the conversation beyond the ‘heroic’ individual entrepreneur and towards a recognition of the social nature of learning and change? Doris and Pam made clear they intend to take an ‘affirmative critical approach’ in their pedagogy to help students question dominant cultural narratives so that they themselves can feel empowered to identify the alternative practices that they seek.
Professor Sandra Jones from RMIT University, Melbourne, was engaging in her provocation, inviting us to reject the dominant vision for humanity of competition and profit maximisation. Two aspects of her talk chimed most with me. One was her admission that, as well as the more common complaint about skewed resource distribution, many millenials had been left scant opportunity by their baby boomer predecessors to challenge the damaging conceptual myth of homoeconomicus, free markets and market growth. The second was a darkly humorous ‘quote’ from George Orwell in reference to his dystopian novel 1984: “I wrote it as a warning, not a fucking instruction manual”.
Despite my enthusiasm, the event felt quite overwhelming at times. It was free and inclusive. It was friendly. There were refreshments and breaks. People were free to talk, listen, ask questions, and participate as they wished. There was an invitation to continue conversations and networking at the end of the symposium. Yet I sensed a similar uncertainty in other participants as the event drew to a close, almost like a sense of unfinished business; something that didn’t escape the attention of event organiser Professor Richard Bolden.
As I waited in the cool, darkening autumn evening for my return train at Bristol Parkway station – listening to the occasional clanking of machinery or watching the faceless faces whizz past – I thought it was worth reflecting more on why this might have been.
Perhaps, as one participant pointed out towards the end, it was life and living conditions. To a large extent, people still need to submit to the anonymous power of the market for their livelihoods, their homes and their well being. People are worried about their loved ones and their futures; faced with new and shifting threats to their welfare each day. There is a tangible sense of atomisation and psychological strain. Economic life can feel like an uncertainty that follows you. This doesn’t look likely to improve, either:
“Whether through the enclosures brought on by neoliberalism or the increasingly authoritarian and exclusionary politics of the further right, the expected normality (job security, pensions, unemployment supports, fair working hours and conditions) that citizens experience or aspire to will likely continue to erode.” Bauwens et al. (2017)
In this world of ‘post-truth’ and fast-paced change, we hardly have time to navigate one personal trauma or social transformation before we are bludgeoned onto the next. Where neoliberal restructuring and toxic stress are still the norm, it is hard to know what is reality anymore let alone how we come to know it, or the right methodology for teaching it.
Critical questions: How can we carve out shared spaces for transitioning to something more time-rich, caring and human? How do we find ways to connect with one another in solidarity and on a deeper, more intuitive level? There was, at least, a sense that this symposium offered a valuable and important space to engage with others in precarious times; as well as something that people indicated a desire to continue engaging with.
To me, critical pedagogy feels honest and authentic. We can be guided by the values of autonomy, responsibility and solidarity, and we are part of a larger interdependent whole rather than the struggling atoms of liberal-individualist and neoliberal market culture.
Yet it is also about having the courage to voice social silences and inject some authenticity beyond the sometimes gilded halls of academia and the career-building activity of contemporary neoliberal subjects. It might ask the following challenging questions:
What moved people to attend this event in the first place?
Did people feel moved to share their experiences, fears and truths?
What bridges of trust and solidarity are being built with people worst-affected by the marketisation and austerity policies of the state?
What examples of academics themselves organising alternatively outside of the University?
In this sense, I reflected, perhaps this is as much about courageous leadership and creating safe spaces and conviviality as it is about creativity or reformulating the curriculum. Creativity is, after all, not something that is the product of extraordinary individual minds but “originates from a culturally-shaped cooperation they also serve” (Gronemeyer 2014).
The ability to think critically and reflexively is indeed a fundamental priority if we are not perpetuating the mistakes and injustices of past and present. There is great social value in such approaches to education. Dialogic, participatory and action-orientated models of education and research, for example, go far further than formal, liberal interpretations of fairness and equality that stop at equal opportunities for individuals.
Yet whether scholars who identify themselves as catalysts for social change can carve out the common ground they seek solely ‘inside’ the university alone I’m not so sure. I sense that the radical spirit that drives this pedagogy will only find what it seeks once we have stopped striving as competing individuals. Conviviality is, after all, “a constant reminder that the community is never closed” (Illich 2005, cited in Gronemeyer, 2014). Perhaps only then will we be at the critical moment.
With this in mind, it was encouraging to note that both Martin Parker and Sandra Jones encouraged critical academics to organise in different ways beyond the academy in order to mobilise social change.
Knowledge as a Commons
Academics might reasonably point out it is not solely up to them to solve all society’s problems. Moreover, giving up stable employment to start a research cooperative in today’s economic climate and political culture might be considered at best a very risky undertaking. Yet if we really want to see ourselves as catalysts for social, democratic or environmental renewal, then we must begin to find ways to step out of the private sphere and begin listening to citizen’s voices and experiences. We need to work together to reclaim and create the public spaces for us to manage matters which concern us all.
One thing critically-minded scholars can do is to begin to raise awareness of the emerging commons movement, and situate research and learning within the context of the Commons Transition (Bauwens et al., 2017).
“In the past thirty years, contemporary scholarship has rediscovered commons, illuminating their cooperative management principles as a counterpoint to conventional economics and particularly its growth imperatives, artificially created scarcities, and fealty to consumption as a preeminent goal.” Bollier & Weston (2014)
But what are commons? According to Innovator Michel Bauwens et al. (2017), commons are:
A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity;
A self-organised system by which communities manage resources with minimal or no reliance on the market or state;
A sector of the economy and life that generates value in ways that are taken for granted and often jeopardised by the market and state;
The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge Bauwens et al. (2017)
Much research into commons was initially focused on natural resources. Dispelling the myth of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (Hardin 1968), Elinor Ostrom (1990) considered subsistence commons such as meadows, water, forests, or fisheries (the resource alone minus the self-determined norms, practices, and traditions of communities is referred to by Economists as a common-pool resource). More recently, commons scholar Silke Helfrich (cited in Bauwens et al., 2017) points out how every commons, even those that revolve around land and water, are knowledge commons, “because the commoners must learn to apply knowledge in managing them”.
A commons, therefore, is distinct from a common-pool resource, and constitutes a self-management regime and dynamic social process called commoning. It can include digital commons such as free, open-source platforms such as Wikipedia and social, cultural and civic commons such as community support schemes, social care coops, playgrounds, public spaces, knowledge and ideas, public schools, libraries, and parks. In fact, a commons can arise whenever a community decides to pool its resources and defend or take control of its collective wealth, enlivened by this social process of commoning.
Where might academics fit within the Commons Transition Plan, a name coined by the P2P Foundation to “describe a process of facilitating open, participatory input across society, prioritising the needs of people and environments affected by policy decisions over market or bureaucratic needs”? (Bauwens et al. 2017)
1. Tell the story of the commons and its enclosures, the private appropriation of our common wealth.
2. Recognise that knowledge, information, and culture are part of the public sphere, and gain value though open access, sharing, and collaboration. Academics can help by facilitating open-source rather than proprietary knowledge.
3. Practice conviviality, involving, in the words of Marianne Gronemeyer (2014): “…a language that is both objectionable and triggers ideas to enable understanding rather than consensus which is often achieved by manipulation; research that speaks a personal language full of experience; practice that does not compete, but cooperates and shares; technology that helps to make the best out of the power, and the imagination that everyone has.”
4. Learn about the power of Vernacular Law: “Vernacular law originates in the informal, unofficial zones of society and is a source of moral legitimacy and power in its own right…places and spaces where people are struggling to achieve regeneration and social restoration against the forces of economic globalization” Bollier & Weston (2014)
5. Teaching, organizing or resourcing through Commons-based Peer Production: “Through imagining and constructing independent governance that supports the infrastructure of cooperation…can help us to protect the best qualities of the welfare state model, and transcend it with a radically re imagined politics that would facilitate social value creation and community organized practices.” Bauwens et al. (2017)
6. Recognise the need for a Partner State to fund and support this process of social value creation and community organized practices (e.g. the needs of civil society and its living, caring and learning environments) rather than the current state/market tendency to genuflect to corporate or financial interests: “The Partner State is the concept whereby public authorities play a sustaining role in the ‘direct creation of value by civil society’, i.e. sustains and promotes commons-based Peer Production.” Bauwens (2012)
7. Supporting the work of the School of Commoning, a worldwide community of people supporting the developing commons movement.
8. Supporting the work of the Centre for Welfare Reform (CFWR). Working on such projects as Sustainability and Social Justice, Constitutional Reform, Basic Income and other Commonfare practices to navigate the socioeconomic risks of life, CfWR is something akin to an open-access knowledge commons and a community of independent citizens committed to equality and diversity.
9. Join, support or contribute to the Citizen’s Network, a global non-profit cooperative movement, formed to create a world where everyone matters – where everyone can be an equal citizen.
10. Finally, if nothing else, add the missing social context. We should be wary of simple solutions to complex problems, but much social suffering and environmental damage could be avoided or reversed if the political will, citizen understanding, and the right public institutions of support and cultural learning existed to do so. This starts, as some speakers at this symposium correctly alluded to, with the rejection of the myth of homoeconomicus.
In brief conclusion, challenging the sanctity of ‘the state/market’ duopoly as the sole determinant of human nature, worth, and value creation is the priority. However, there’s much critical work to be done.
Bauwens, M 2012 Blueprint for P2P Society: The Partner State and Ethical Economy. Shareable Magazine 7th April 2012
Bauwens, M et al. 2017. Commons Transition: a primer. Transnational Institute. https://www.tni.org/en/publication/commons-transition-and-p2p
Bollier, D. & Weston, B. 2014. Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons. Cambridge University Press.
Gronemeyer, M. 2014. ‘Conviviality’: Patterns of Commoning. The Commons Strategy Group. Amherst, MA.
Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the Commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press.
Hardin, G. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science (December 13th 1968).
By Holly Poole, Policy and Support Coordinator for Avon and Somerset Police.
When I was asked to write this blog, I was a little hesitant to broadcast myself to the whole of the Force but I hope my blog may inspire others to take a step out of their comfort zone and put yourself forward to help make a positive difference.
I joined the force nearly two years ago fresh out of University after recommendations of opportunities within the organisation and have undertaken Clerical and Personal Assistant roles within Criminal Justice. I am currently undertaking a role within the Citizens in Policing department in Business Improvement working with our Police Support Volunteers, Special Constables and Police Cadets. You may also recognise my name from running the Citizens Academy and I am also a volunteer Specials Assessor. I enjoy engaging with volunteers and communities, being a representative for the force and being part of the wider organisation and learning more about how each element of our organisation works together to reach our mission to be outstanding.
During my short time within the force, I have constantly looked for ways to improve the way I work and to support others. I have always taken on tasks and work above my role responsibilities and offer my assistance wherever I can. I have a need to be constantly challenged and I am always looking for ways to develop and this is why I put myself forward for the Aspire People Development Programme (PDP). The programmes ambition is to develop potential leaders and is tailored to those who exceed expectations, have the desire to develop and seek posts at a higher level. At the end of the programme, an academic accreditation in leadership and management will be awarded.
The programme is in partnership with UWE and its format runs over nine months and features monthly lectures on a range of areas including effective leadership, understanding change and building effective workplace relationships. To gain the academic accreditation at the conclusion of the programme, two academic assignments and a project are required to be completed.
During my first day on the programme, I had a severe case of imposter syndrome. Not only was I the youngest on the programme, but I was also the lowest ranked staff member and had little/no management experience unlike my peers. During the day team activities were carried out, learning styles were analysed, the project options were discussed and work packages that had been identified in need areas of business over the force were presented. The realisation that not only would my project be implemented to make improvements within the force but that at the programmes conclusion I would present my recommendations to COG overwhelmed me. Surely it was a mistake I had been shortlisted for this PDP programme? I felt as though I didn’t deserve my place and there was definitely someone out there with more skill than I to carry out a project at such a strategic level!
Four months on since that first session, supported by my UWE lecturer, line manager, mentor, HR and my project business lead I no longer feel like an imposter. The programme has helped me to identify the leadership qualities I already possess and enhance them alongside learning new skills and tools I will be able to use in both my current and future roles. Following a personal development plan I have been able to identify areas of improvement within myself including problem solving and presentation skills. I am due to carry out a number of presentations over the course of the next few months to various stakeholders which I have volunteered for…I never thought I would be confident enough to volunteer to present, let alone on a project of this scale!
I am passionate about my chosen project and I am progressing well, my aspiration is that my project will improve the way we work in a large area of business and support us on our journey to be outstanding. Taking part in the PDP Programme has been challenging at times and having my role responsibilities alongside managing assignments and projects has truly tested my time management skills.
Both the PDP programme and the project have enabled me to network with a variety of departments, roles and partnership agencies which I would have not had the opportunity to in my current role. No matter what role or rank, the programmes main aim is to develop you personally and provide you with the skills to take into higher or more demanding roles.
The experience and skills the Aspire Personal Development Programme has provided me with has been invaluable, I feel what I have learnt has developed me as a person and will help me to make a positive difference. I look forward to completing the remainder of the programme, whatever challenges may lie ahead.
Last week saw the Business School host the 10th Developing Leadership Capacity Conference (DLCC)with around 70 participants attending to present ideas and share knowledge. The DLCC was originally developed with the aim of having a combination of those interested in researching the area of leadership learning and development and those interested in new ideas for practice, and this year, on the conference’s 10th anniversary, we believe we had a healthy mix of both. We also introduced a case study stream and a workshop stream this year to really engage practice with academic ideas discussed in a third stream.
We also had an international feel to the conference this year with participants coming from as far afield as Canada, Ghana, Saudi Arabia and Australia. This year we were particularly interested in innovative and creative approaches to learning and developing leadership and we had a stimulating conversation across all groups over the two days on this theme. We also had keynotes from Professor Carole Elliot (Roehampton University) on Women’s Leadership Development, Dr Kevin Flinn (Hertfordshire University) presenting on a complexity approach to leadership learning and Professor Paul Hibbert (St Andrews University) who presented on an aesthetic approach to understanding leadership experiences. The keynotes are pictured below with the conference hosts and founders Dr Doris Schedlitzki and Dr Gareth Edwards and the Director of the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre, Professor Richard Bolden.
In March 2018 the topic of the month at Ujima Radio was Leadership. Alongside a range of local and national speakers Professor Richard Bolden, Director of Bristol Leadership and Change Centre, discussed the work that he and colleagues are doing in Bristol and beyond. In a wide-ranging conversation Gail Bowen-Huggett, presenter of The Babbers Show, invited his views on topics including African leadership, distributed leadership, leadership of place and inclusive leadership.
As a German national, I have always been both fascinated with and troubled by the romantic belief in leaders that seems to dominate life in organisations based in English speaking countries. When – as an undergraduate student – I first encountered the idea of the effective leader who can pretty much save a team or organisation single-handedly by winning followers’ hearts and minds and showing them the path to enlightenment, I was excited. This is the answer that nobody had talked about when I was growing up in post-WW2 Germany! Studying for a degree in Industrial Relations where conflict was a given assumption of daily reality in the workplace, this idea of leadership felt nicer, warmer and promising harmony (Collinson, 2012; Learmonth and Morrell, 2017). It was like leaving the cinema after watching a big blockbuster movie where, through tenacity and bravery, the hero comes forth to save the day.
Alas, this fascination was soon marred when I embarked on my PhD in leadership studies and cracks in this positive image of the heroic, effective leader started to appear when trying to compare forms of leadership in Germany and the UK. As a native German speaker, I was lost for words. I simply could not translate the words leader, manager, leadership and follower into the German language (Jepson, 2010). The meaningfulness and indeed power of the language of leadership, intertwined so deeply with and dependent on the denigration of management (Ford and Harding, 2007), was lost. The realisation that language mattered and that without an ability to articulate a sense of self as leader or indeed follower was significant and opened up avenues for exploring my own aversion to being called a leader or follower.
Through my research into leadership, language and identity, I have explored some of the manifold ways in which language matters for our understanding of the concept and practice of leadership. By exploring notions of leadership and management in the German language (Jepson, 2009; 2010) and in Welsh (Schedlitzki et al., 2016), for example, I have highlighted the importance of paying attention to culturally and historically embedded meanings of leadership but also warned of the dangers of oversimplifying and stereotyping the connection between nationality and leadership so as to recognise diversity in meaning within and across languages. With colleagues (Schedlitzki et al., 2016; Schedlitzki et al., 2017) I have called for a research agenda in leadership studies that pays attention to the importance of language, giving voice to currently muted and diverse meanings embedded in non-English languages and regional dialects. This may bring to the fore other, culturally embedded notions of organising that are more meaningful for individuals’ sense of self in the workplace than the idea of the effective leader.
But we do not have to venture ‘abroad’ to realise how much language matters for our understanding of who we are – our identity in the workplace. Myself and colleagues (Schedlitzki et al., 2017) have joined others (e.g. Ford and Harding, 2015) in questioning the ease with which we assume that individuals will see themselves as leader and/or followers in their daily working life. Whilst some may identify quite readily with being a leader, others will experience the daily frustration of wanting to be a leader but feeling like they never quite reach the mark of the effective, great leader depicted in the media and literature. Why is this so? Some argue it is the lack of ‘real’ followers in the workplace (Harding, 2015); others (Collinson, 2011; Ford, 2010; Liu and Baker, 2016) argue that the language of leadership conjures up an image of the ideal leader that is predominantly white, male, masculine, middle class, able bodied, heterosexual and middle aged. Coupled with near heroic abilities of a leader promoted through popular theories like transformational leadership (Alvesson and Karreman, 2016), we start to realise that this effective leader image is highly exclusionary and often unattainable (Ford et al., 2008).
So, where does this leave us? Gaining an understanding of the manifold ways in which language matters for our understanding of leadership and sense of self in the workplace may indeed give us a sense of control over who we can be. Understanding the language of leadership in our workplace may enable us to see the image that it creates of an effective leader and the extent to which we fit into this image or resist it. This may help to make sense of barriers we are experiencing to developing a sense of self as a leader or follower. This insight may also invite us to try and influence both the organisational language of leadership and the image conjured through this language to make space for alternative meanings and images of leadership – or indeed other forms of organising – that are more meaningful for our sense of self.
Delegates discuss the need for a citywide approach to leadership (Front row, right to left – Tracie Jolliff, Mayor Marvin Rees, Cllr Asher Craig, Sarah Minns, John Simpson)
12 May 2017
Today marked the launch of Bristol Leadership Challenge (BLC) – a dynamic new initiative to mobilise the leadership potential of the City to address its most significant and entrenched challenges. Inspiring speeches by Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, Tracie Jolliff, Head of Inclusion and Systems Leadership at the NHS Leadership Academy, and John Simpson, Independent Chair of the Golden Key partnership, highlighted the need to think and work differently in order to address inequality and embrace the creative potential of all who live and work in Bristol. A ‘systems leadership’ approach, where there is genuine commitment to working collaboratively in order to address shared challenges, offers the only realistic way forward in a resource-constrained environment yet requires courage in order to take a stand for what matters.
For the past eight months Professor Richard Bolden and colleagues from Bristol Business School at UWE have been supporting a consortium of Bristol-based organisations, convened by Golden Key and the Mayor’s City Office, in developing the Bristol Leadership Challenge. The programme, starting in October 2017, is designed for current and aspiring leaders from across statutory, voluntary and business sectors in Bristol, who have the motivation and potential to make a lasting contribution to leadership of the City. We are seeking to literally ‘change the face’ of leadership in Bristol, leaving a lasting legacy through the programme’s focus on a specific challenge (mental health in the first year) and developing a network of committed, engaged and competent system leaders.
The programme will be delivered by staff and associates from Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (UWE) in collaboration with the Leadership Centre (London). Sessions will comprise a mix of experiential, conceptual and practical activities facilitated by a highly experienced team. Participants will hear from experts in the field and develop their capacity for systems leadership by working on a real-life citywide challenge, reporting their findings and recommendations to key stakeholders from across Bristol.
If you, someone you know, or your organisation is interested in participating in or sponsoring this programme, please contact email@example.com to find out more.
For anyone who believes that leadership and management are rational processes, where the most skilled and experienced leaders will succeed and the best strategies and plans are implemented, the events of 2016 will come as a surprise.
In the last few months the UK Referendum on membership of the European Union and the US Presidential Election have proven the vast majority of experts and pundits wrong. These have been described as ‘black swan’ events that push us to fundamentally reassess the basis on which we make judgements of what is and isn’t possible.
How is it that a ragtag group of politicians, promoting evidence that members of their own campaign team described as patently wrong, could mobilise the British public to vote to leave their most significant economic and cultural partnership? How is it that arguably the least qualified candidate in US electoral history, whose words and actions alienated large parts of both the electorate and his own party, defeated one of the most qualified and experienced?
To begin to understand such situations requires us to take a long hard look at the nature, function and purpose of leadership in contemporary society. It requires us to reappraise the common assumption that ‘leadership’ is all about ‘leaders’. Whilst analysis of the characteristics, qualities and actions of Trump, Clinton, Johnson, Gove, Farage, etc. will generate certain insights (probably reading like a Shakespearean drama) they offer little real understanding of the wider contextual factors that contribute towards and create such possibilities.
In his epic novel War and Peace, Tolstoy famously argued: “to study the laws of history we must completely change the subject of our observation, we must leave aside kings, ministers, and generals, and study the common, infinitesimally small elements by which the masses are moved”. Analysis of voter statistics for both the UK Referendum and the US Election demonstrate significant variations by demography – with outcomes in each case strongly influenced by the voting patterns of older voters and those living in more deprived areas.
To understand leadership we must also understand followership – not only the popular view of people who willingly ‘follow the leader’ but also reluctant followers and those who do not even consider themselves ‘followers’ at all. It is likely that many who voted for Trump and Brexit did not believe what they were being told from either side of the campaign but, with limited options and a genuine desire for change, did what they could to get their voices heard and to kick back against the establishment.
2016, more than ever, reminds us of the need to revisit our assumptions and to reconsider the extent to which current theories, practices and approaches enable individuals, groups, organisations and communities to develop and enact responsible and sustainable leadership. The inherently paradoxical nature of leadership, and the challenges and opportunities this poses, is the theme of our book Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking leadership for an uncertain world, which was shortlisted for the Leadership and Management textbook category of the CMI Management Book of the Year award. To find our more please visit the companion website www.leadershipparadoxes.com.
Richard Bolden, Professor of Leadership and Management, UWE, Bristol
Twitter: @bolden_richard; @lshipparadoxes
 The Leave campaign famously travelled the country in a bus sporting the slogan ‘We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead’ – both ‘facts’ that were widely understood to be incorrect and misleading, and which were dismissed out of hand in Nigel Farage’s first press interview following the referendum result.
I’m never happier than wallowing in practice theory. I love grappling with the intricacies of the original thinkers in my field – Bourdieu, Schatzki, Giddens – and wading through their dense language, pondering the implications for my data of their carefully articulated thoughts. At present I’m working with data from depth interviews with Strava app users; amateur athletes who track and monitor their running and cycling data. I’m embedded in Foucauldian analyses of surveillance society, M-health studies and the affective detail of practice theoretical accounts.
But I’m also really interested in the implications of theoretically-driven academic research on behaviour change practice. I would not be satisfied if my leather arm-chair ponderings (see pic above!) about – and using – practice theory did not form part of a growing evidence base that has the power or potential to support a shift in the thinking of policymakers and practitioners of behaviour change. However, there is a significant problem with the impact that journal articles have on practice. Generally they don’t. Rather, translational work is required. This can be in the form of conference presentations, blogs and magazine publications, but a further very effective translational method is the ‘toolkit’.
Recently, I have been working with research and analysis consultant Andrew Darnton. He has been advising government departments and public bodies on behaviour change theory and practice for two decades. He is best described as a ‘knowledge broker’, attempting to translate complex academic theory and empirical studies into usable formats for policy and practice. He is the author of two particular ‘tools’ which I am using more and more. The first is ‘ISM’ (individual – social -material), which is a neat mechanism for practitioners and policy makers – who require no theoretical knowledge – to conceptualise and plan behaviour change interventions in a theoretically-underpinned way. The model forces the thinking-through of a behaviour change problem to take a practice-driven approach. It de-centres the individual, considers the materiality, temporality and sequencing, as well as socio-context that frames the performance of practice. It is fun to do, easily achievable and has produced a suite of demonstrable results across many areas, like the reduction of outdoor defecation in Brazil, reduced meat consumption or reduced teen drinking in Scotland.
The second model I’ve been working with, again one of Andrew’s, is ReValuation. As a practice theorist, I am so often asked how the theory has been or can be applied, and how to evaluate the impact of a practice-theoretical intervention. In truth, the evidence of practice-driven intervention design is thin on the ground, although a team at UWE and a team at Tatu University in Estonia are developing school culture-change programs to consider the implications of a practice-theoretical approach. One of the central problems of any practice-based approach to social change is evaluation. A linear model of behaviour change is inherently appealing to policy and practice because linearity can more easily be measured. An example is the BMI change in users of a self-monitoring health app. Rather, making subtle shifts across a complex system, like a primary school, might have deep-rooted effects that aren’t visible, or only manifest in the future, or have wholly unintended consequences.
ReValuation does not require its users to understand systems theory, practice theory, complexity theory or have any grasp on evaluation methodology or mechanisms for reporting and measurement. It simply allows for a range of indicators to be collaboratively identified which capture the full value of any intervention, and that can include ‘soft’ outcomes which are captured through story telling and anecdote. It also allows for hard stats to be ‘calculated’, and the potential future value of work to be captured. It speaks to the needs of multiple audiences.
I have been teaching these tools on the Behaviour Change module of UWE’s MSc Sustainable Development, and using them in some recent engagement work. It has been fun, and challenging, stepping away from the theory and allowing the tools to do the work. The enthusiasm with which public audiences have received these models has further emphasised the need for academic researchers to move beyond the peer reviewed journal article. With the Impact agenda this is already embedded in our academic worklife, but it has been nonetheless valuable for me to be reminded of the usefulness of translational tools, which make theory work for the right people in a pragmatic way.
Well, it’s September already and the start of a fresh new term for many of us. I hope you have had a great summer of holidays, rest, writing, teaching, planning, thinking, conference inspiration and everything else in-between!
I thought I’d kick start the new academic year with some good news…and a tiny bit of self-promotion! There’s a great new book out: “Gender, Media, and Organization: Challenging Mis(s)Representations of Women Leaders and Managers”. It is currently available to order at http://www.infoagepub.com/products/Gender-Media-and-Organization, and will be available to order on all major online retailer sites throughout the world within the next 60 days. Please see documents attached (below) for more details…and feel free to share these with your networks.
I’m really proud to say that I have a chapter included in the book: Dress and the Female Professional: A Case Study of Working Woman with my lovely colleagues Ann Rippin, University of Bristol and Samantha Warren, Cardiff University. I’m also pleased to say that the chapter is based on the analysis of the 1980s Working Woman magazine; a set of magazines that my Mum, Lesley Shortt, had kept in her study since the invention of shoulder pads and passed on to me several years ago “just in case they were useful…”. So, thank you Mum, they were…and this is what we did with them…
Abstract: Women and their clothes have always been a serious matter (Hollander, 1993). Using a visual social semiotic approach (van Leeuwen, 2005), in this chapter we undertake a “rich viewing” of 1980s cultural texts to explore the performative heritage of gender through the adoption of clothes, make-up, and accessories. This is a timely investigation because today’s 40-something women leaders and managers were socialized into their understandings of being “professional” women as a result of the proliferation of print, TV, and film images in the 1980s (see for example, Baby Boom, 1987; Working Girl, 1988). Through these images, women were instructed in the arts of tackling men’s dominance in the workplace through the adoption of shoulder pads, “big hair,” and sharp suits. They are now playing out these roles as managers in an increasingly surveillance-oriented world due to the growth of the internet, social media, and readily available digital image technologies. These media enable a (damaging) hyper-visible and obsessive focus on women professionals’ appearance; for example, politicians in the press are assessed on their fashion sense before their ministerial skills and abilities (Greenslade, 2014). At the same time, self-help texts for female professionals continue to be full of advice stressing how women should look the part if they want to succeed (Kenny and Bell, 2011).
So, anyone interested in clothes, women, leadership and 1980s fashion…enjoy!